by Eric Zuesse for The Saker Blog
On June 15th, the U.S. Supreme Court, with only the libertarian right-wing (basically anti-government) Clarence Thomas dissenting — reaffirmed that America’s law-enforcement officers have “qualified immunity” from prosecution when they do things such as to shoot an innocent person in his own yard whose unthreatening pet dog is seeking his protection from an officer who is trying to shoot it; or, as the libertarian lawyer Jay Schweikert put this matter: “the Supreme Court let stand an Eleventh Circuit decision granting immunity to a police officer who shot a ten-year-old child in the back of the knee, while repeatedly attempting to shoot a pet dog that wasn’t threatening anyone.” The officer was Deputy Sheriff Michael Vickers, of Coffee County, Georgia. He had been chasing a suspect, who happened to cross into the yard of Amy Corbitt, who at that time happened to be chatting with another adult, Damion Stewart. One of her children was referred to in the case as “SDC.” Here is how the lower court ruling stated the incident:
At some point after Vickers and the other officers entered Corbitt’s yard, the officers “demanded all persons in the area, including the children, to get down on the ground.” An officer handcuffed Stewart and placed a gun at his back. … Then, “while the children were lying on the ground obeying [Vickers’s] orders … without necessity or any immediate threat or cause, [Vickers] discharged his firearm at the family pet named ‘Bruce’ twice.” The first shot missed, and Bruce (a dog) temporarily retreated under Corbitt’s home. No other efforts were made to restrain or subdue the dog, and no one appeared threatened by him. Eight or ten seconds after Vickers fired the first shot, the dog reappeared and was “approaching his owners,” when Vickers fired a second shot at the dog. This shot also missed the dog, but the bullet struck SDC in the back of his right knee. At the time of the shot, SDC was “readily viewable” and resting “approximately eighteen inches from Vickers, lying on the ground, face down, pursuant to the orders of [Vickers].” Barnett (the fleeing suspect) “was visibly unarmed and readily compliant” with officers. According to the complaint, “[a]t no time did SDC, or any other children … present any threat or danger to provoke … Vickers to fire two shots.” Importantly, the parties do not dispute that Vickers intended to shoot the dog and not SDC. Corbitt, individually and as SDC’s parent and guardian, brought a civil action against Vickers in his individual capacity pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint alleged deprivations of the right to be free from excessive force as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. … In response, Vickers filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). He asserted that he was entitled to qualified immunity because case law had not staked out a “bright line” indicating that the act of firing at the dog and unintentionally shooting SDC was unlawful.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for Deputy Sheriff Michael Vickers. The case against Vickers was one of many such, throughout the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling dismissed all of them for the same reason. Here is how the Rutherford Institute, which backed all of these cases against the officers, phrased the officers’ argument in one of these cases:
Qualified immunity shielded the defendants’ actions from liability because Petitioner could not point to any factually identical case clearly establishing that law enforcement officials exceeded the scope of Petitioner’s consent to enter her home when they essentially destroyed her home. That reasoning sets an impossible standard. Because courts are free to advance to the ‘clearly established’ prong of the qualified immunity inquiry without first deciding threshold constitutional questions, it is unlikely that a body of case law with closely analogous factual circumstances will ever develop.
In other words: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that unless Congress will pass a new law which will specifically apply the 4th and the 14th Amendments so as to enable prosecution of law-enforcement officers who do the specific listed sorts of things that unequivocally are identified in those new statutes as being prohibited under those Amendments, America’s law-enforcement officers are free to continue doing these sorts of things and to avoid any sort of legal liability for having done them.
Attorney Schweikert headlined on June 15th “The Supreme Court’s Dereliction of Duty on Qualified Immunity”, and wrote about the Court’s ruling:
It’s impossible to know for sure what motivated the Court to deny all of these petitions. But one possibility is that the Justices were looking closely at developments in Congress — where members of both the House and the Senate have introduced bills that would abolish qualified immunity — and decided to duck the question, hoping to pressure Congress to fix the Court’s mess. It is certainly encouraging that so many legislators have finally turned their attention to qualified immunity. But the mere fact that Congress can fix this mess doesn’t absolve the Supreme Court of its obligation to fix what it broke — the Court conjured qualified immunity out of nothing in the first place, and the Justices had both the authority and responsibility to correct their own blunders, no matter what happens in the legislature.
Qualified immunity will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s most egregious, costly, and embarrassing mistakes. None of the Justices on the Court today were responsible for creating this doctrine, but they all had a responsibility to fix it — and except for Justice Thomas, they all shirked that responsibility. It is now all the more urgent that Congress move forward on this issue and ensure that all public officials — especially members of law enforcement — are held accountable for their misconduct.
However, Schweikert contradicts himself there, because he simultaneously acknowledges that qualified immunity was concocted by the Court and not imposed into the law by the Congress and signed into the law by the President. So, there is disingenousness in Schweikert’s proposed ‘solution’. An evil that is introduced by the U.S. Supreme Court cannot be eliminated by the U.S. Congress and a good President. Nor can it be eliminated by successfully going through the lengthy and arduous process of passing a new Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. No matter what types of actions by law-enforcement officers would be specifically listed in any such new law or new Constitutional Amendment, it would fail. An arbitrary, basically evil, U.S. Supreme Court will always be able to place its imprimatur upon and validate new rationalizations for the police-state that they have been constructing in this country, especially after 9/11. Congress and the President can’t fix this, they can’t fix a problem that they didn’t themselves create, but Congress and the President can condemn and shame the Court — which they never do. Better yet, they can impeach all of the sitting ‘Justices’ and replace them with decent people. But each of this Court’s members was placed there by the Congresses, and by the Presidents. It’s an extremely vicious circle, and no part of it can fix other parts of it.
This isn’t a failure ONLY by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is instead an expression of the American system as it now exists, and which failure renders the U.S. Constitution itself almost meaningless, especially as regards the rights of the people and the obligations of federal officials at all levels in the government. There is no accountability; there is only blame. And, as in any authoritarian system, all blame goes downward, and all praise goes upward. That’s the reality. The U.S. Constitution is by now just a string of words. America’s Founders are dead, gone, and no longer really even an influence. That’s the reality. Pretending otherwise won’t fix anything. Drastic changes are needed. And the American public has proven itself not up to the challenge, still refuses to face the reality. This is system-failure. And the public refuses to face it.
The corruption is beyond control, and the public ends up paying for all of it. People such as Amy Corbitt and her son “SBC” are mere collateral damages in such a system. The beneficiaries from the system run the system. The least that the public can do is to call it a “dictatorship” instead of a “democracy.” The most that the public can do is overthrow it and replace it with one that has the same Constitution and none of the existing case-law, and that adds a few Amendments, such as this. Also essential would be an entirely new and more rigorous methodology for interpreting the Constitution. There is no existing rigorous methodology for Constitutional interpretation. The present chaos in that regard is virtually inviting the degeneration and predominant corruption that currently exist. Especially after World War II, the U.S. Supreme Court has increasingly taken advantage of that chaos.
Currently, the phrase “American justice” is oxymoronic.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
This is administrative law in operation. This law has no moral foundation. The Supreme court rules in administrative law which has no connection to constitutional law. Administrative law is the law of mammon which means that the law is under the guidance of ego; not spirit.
We are witnessing very radical changes in our nation, 9/11 was actually small potatoes compared to this. I just watched a very clever video I’d like to share, but I don’t know whether or not I’m allowed to post a video URL here? As almost everything is censored in some way. The name of the video is “FIRST ❌ AMENDMENT” on a YouTube channel called WikiBlabs.
This channel has been highly censored by YouTube, many of the very unique videos have already been removed by YouTube. In my opinion America is becoming worse than China, at least China doesn’t pretend to be a democratic republic!!!
Here’s some statistics that should be known, Of those arrested for serious violent crimes in 2017, 58.5% were white, 37.5% were black, 2.1% were American Indian or Alaska Native and 1.5% Asian. Ethnically, 23.5% were Hispanic and 76.5% were non-Hispanic. From 1980 through 2008 males represented 77% of homicide victims and 90% of offenders. Blacks committed 52.5% of all homicides during that span, at a rate almost eight times that of whites, and were victimized at a rate six times that of whites. Most homicides were intraracial, with 93% of black victims killed by blacks and 84% of white victims killed by whites. From Wikipedia.
I believe you are basically correct.
What your refer to as “America” is a land filled with deceit and fear — those other two blind-spots in the classical seven (really nine) sins. And now the facade is coming down to reveal the truth of the matter — they are about as ‘free’ as caged canaries.
The USA idiom makes more sense when viewed as a mega-corporation rather than nation-culture. For example the public health policy tied to work-employment etc — basic HR management structure.
However, the easiest optic is to review the flag(s) of the old British East India Company (Inc) until taken over by the Crown; and the USA flag — the only difference being union jack or stars.
Basically, the north American corporate heads of the equivalent ‘British East India Company’ rebelled and staged a ‘nation’ play from the elite Board room which limped along until the two world war opportunities emerged in the 20th century to cunningly flip the debtor-creditor relationship with old Europe and claim world dominance (via cold war theater etc).
And now that scenario is rapidly unraveling to reveal the neo-feudal capitalist plantation slave-indentured worker sub-strata model that was always there under the lace tablecloth. The core issue in a global context is one of rapidly declining relevance. The USA is in its ‘Boris Yeltsin’ moment with master (TV-Land) Trump — and not a Putin equivalent in site!
East India Company flag(s)
You nailed correctly…follow the monies, who print them from thin air as a result we have slavery all over the world for the British crown and the deep state – the very same rule behind the curtains.
Till the messiah comes…
The author writes: ” Congress and the President can’t fix this, they can’t fix a problem that they didn’t themselves create, … ”
In a practical sense that’s probably true. And then there’s the issue of whether or not they actually want to. But as a technical matter, perhaps if they wanted to do so they could. Please direct your attention to the U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 2, Paragraph 2, Sentence 2. It reads:
“In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, *** with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Congress shall make ***.”
[emphasis *** added]
I am not a legal scholar, but it does appear that Congress has the Constitutional authority to tell the Supreme Court that it does not have jurisdiction in exceptional matters. I am not aware that this power has ever been used, or what the procedure for using it would be. Perhaps someone who is a legal scholar could comment.
But technical matters aside, it is pretty clear that the government establishment does not want to correct this problem. To the government this is not a problem, but rather a feature. We could examine numerous details of how this feature has been abused, and we would get weary doing that. It is obvious that government will not willingly reform itself unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Therefore, the essential question is: What circumstances might compel such a reform?
To be clear, I do not know the answer to this question, and I am not about to speculate on the possible answers. In fact, I somewhat fear the answers. Yet, I believe that it is far more important, and difficult, to ask the right questions than to answer them.
Peace, I hope…
I believe it was threatened to be used over some issue w/the New Deal, and that just the threat was enough to obtain the desired results. Such an argument has been made wrt Citizens United:
“American justice” is oxymoronic”
The largest change in the last 30 years has been online communications. Will this divide or seperate minds? Will this educate or dump down? Will military activity increase or be reduced? Will this be a positive for human evolution?
I recently watched a youtube blog by arguably two of the best minds in the US and I commented thus: “I greatly appreciate your intelligence and understanding however I have a concern regarding the two hours spent on the internal social problems of America and the consequences of American injustice in your latest talks.
Some in Venezuela might worry more about medicine, maize, milk and motor oil.
In the past 50 years many folk world wide have been waiting, and waiting for some explanation of justice that might right some of the wrongs that were the result of US foreign policy in the past 50 years. Don’t be suprised if some are a little gleeful at equating the current internal problems with some other notion of justice. What do you think?
This brings to mind the old saying ‘In the country of the blind the one eyed man is king.’
Boris Johnson has recently granted ‘immunity’ to UK ex-servicemen in the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’. eg. parachute regiment responsible for Boody Sunday massacre etc., Also for ‘incidents’ in Iraq, Afghanistan. Trump also is against US troops being investigated for ‘war crimes’ by International Court. Obviously when military and ex-military are called up to complement or even to replace civilian police for unrest, food riots etc., in near future few restraints in place. Furthermore, it was reported early 2020 that Victoria State police, Australia, had purchased 300 Colt A15 assault rifles?? Euthanizing half burnt koalas and wallabies perhaps!! New Zealand police (possibly military too??) were recently granted special powers under Covid emergency legislation. Question: Does NATO constitution, if there is such a valid document, grant authority and immunity to US servicemen in NATO European countries (approx. 60000!?) for possible suppression of civilian unrest if local police are unable to ‘effectively’ quell/control locals. Would CIA plus 100,000, supposedly, PMD (private military contractors) also be included in eventual control of NATO /EU civilian unrest under NATO constitution (or guidelines)?? As per Maidan, Kiev, Ukraine…
In my opinion, no foreigner in his or her right mind will visit a country where the police not only don’t protect civilians against criminals, but actually behave worse than the criminals.
And in which the courts actively impose injustice, from time to time inventing new injustices to show off their industry.
If you tell a lawyer in America, that is not in the constitution, they will laugh and say the law is governed by precedent. The constitution doesn’t matter. The law is controlled by what the last judge did and that is evolving everyday. The constitution is very simple and easy to understand unless you are a judge. America has the most corrupt government in existence. American is legally corrupt. Bad government has never fixed itself, revolutions fix bad government. Every lawyer, judge and politician is guilty. They are guilty by association and they must all be eliminated good and bad. They must be made an example for future generations.
The title says it all: U.S. Supreme Court Reaffirms U.S. Police State (actually, National Security State, as the police are just the relatively impotent local enforcement arm, all of which exists on a continuum). What else would they do? The iron fist was always going to be the last bastion of our “freedom” once the allure of the velvet glove finally wore off. Now that it has, we’re slowly coming to the realization that this is exactly what it was like to live in Nazi Germany, which was of course the western capitalist funded test run for all this stuff. The authorities pick off one social demographic after another who has fallen out of favor for whatever reason one by one, until they gradually stamp out all resistance. Then, as we’re seeing now, you start eliminating all forms of dissent, first by commodifying them and turning them onto just another marketing opportunity to be profited from (BLM) and then gradually eliminating them altogether after they’ve served their purpose. But as always, beneath it all lies the ever present iron fist which unfortunately must be deployed from time to time “for the common good.” And that must never, ever be questioned legally, morally, or politically whatsoever.
An excellent article. Congress has never used their power to regulate what the Supreme Court can rule on. Last week it has gotten crazier than ever with rewriting the 1964 employment law. Politicians love booting controversial issues to the court, so they can then ignore them. The corruption in this government is total, and people’s belief in it is rapidly breaking down.
While qualified immunity is the question of the day, the SC ruling may come under more scrutiny as the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit published a decision on June 10th, that ended with “This has to Stop.” As a lawyer, there is a saying that the Supreme Court may be the highest court in the land, but that doesn’t mean it is right. That is taught as a 1L.
Anyway, the case above involves several police officers in West Virginia who shot a mentally ill Black man 12 times in the back and 22 times total, during an encounter that started, based upon him not walking on a sidewalk and on the street instead. The officers tase him several times, strike him with violence, kick him in the head, and choke him out, while proclaiming he has a knife. He is lying on his side unconscious and the cops back away form him and shoot him. The Appeals court states he presented no threat and sent the ruling back to the lower court for remand. Hopefully the officers will be charged with Manslaughter at least.
What is more interesting, is that the judge who heard the original case, was a former prosecutor and dismissed the case two times before. She was noted to have ruled in favor of the police by looking at their presented set of facts most favorably, when she should have done so for the deceased. Basic law, but I think she was hoping that the family of the deceased would go away and not file an appeal.
My point is the judges who were once prosecutors and helped police officers like these testily (perjury by police) to the facts and get their stories together, are a bigger part of the problem. They reinforce injustice along with prosecutorial misconduct which is rampant throughout.
In closing I think that qualified immunity will start getting a second look. Good police officers don’t have to hide behind it and only bad officers use it as a means to overstep their authority.
I hope you find this useful, given its timeliness and would love to hear your thoughts.
I used to have an enhanced drivers license so I could cross the border but I got rid of it when I concluded it probably was not safe to travel in the U.S. There are so many incidents with police acting like criminals. For example, committing highway robbery, literally! They pull somebody over for a minor infraction like failure to signal a lane change. The person is on the way with cash in hand to buy another vehicle. The cops discover all this money and seize it, claiming it either came from a drug sale or the person is going to buy drugs. Then they use the money to buy toys for their department or to have a party. This really happens and it happens a lot.
As to the poor man you mention who was on the ground, they didn’t just shoot him in the back. They executed him for disobeying them.
Americans are always going on about foreign enemies when the real enemy is within their borders already.
Basically the Supreme Court punted.
I don’t think we are going to get clarity out of Congress.
Meanwhile the sanctioned violence to protect our hot-headed and emotionally unstable “protectors” with itchy trigger fingers will continue.
Great article along with its comments. I am afraid there is zero possibility for reforms. After the current 1,2 punch of the corona virus and its overreaction, and now the race riots and absurd political demands…I do not see any leadership anywhere on the horizon.
The United States is imploding at an exponential rate and unlike Rome’s demise which was documented by historians, our demise will be reduced to a Twitter thread by imbeciles that forgot to run a spellcheck.
I would have thought the common law tort of failure to exercise a implied duty of care (negligence) when discharging a gun would have covered this.
Also trespass by police to private property.
Australia’s High Court ruled in 1990 police are not allowed to go onto private property without consent of the owner unless it is to prevent a murder. Otherwise it is a trespass liable to substantial damages.
But as you say the US system has limitations as this claim was brought under Constitutional Amendments which has technicalities.